March 7, 2011
This week, the Carter Center published a detailed report on the numerous youth wings associated with political movements in Nepal, and the resultant clashes therein. Although eleven youth organizations are mentioned, the bulk of the 31-page report concentrates on the activities of the Maoist Young Communist League, better known as the YCL.
Youth in Nepal have historically played a critical role in the country's democratic development. However, in recent years political party youth wings have become increasingly associated with aggressive activity, notably since the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (UCPN(M)) Young Communist League (YCL) was re-activated in 2006. In the run up to the 2008 Constituent Assembly election, the YCL was implicated in extortion, intimidation and violent activities. Since the election, Nepal has seen the formation of a “Youth Force” by the Communist Party of Nepal - Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) as a counter-YCL group. Additionally, there have been repeated allegations of YCL, CPN-UML Youth Force, and other party or identity group youth wing involvement in actions, which negatively affect the political, economic, and security environment in districts throughout the country. Nepali politics at the local level has never been entirely peaceful and there is certainly historical precedent of youth being mobilized as “muscle,” but the rising trend since 2006 has raised the attention of district administration officials, political party members, civil society, community members, international observers, and both domestic and international media.
The report is based on recent findings of Carter Center observers throughout the country, who have observed the post-election peace and constitutional drafting process since June 2009. The Center collected information on youth wings in 30 districts through interviews with political party youth wing members, district administration officials, political parties, civil society, and citizens. The Center‟s report looks into who joins political party youth wings, what they receive, and what their aspirations are after joining. It also addresses what kinds of activities political party youth wings engage in and to what degree these activities are in compliance with the peace process agreements signed by their mother parties.
Generally speaking, the Carter Center report found that, among most Nepalis, there were very few positive remarks made about youth wing activities:
Of interviewees aware of youth wings, most associated them with negative actions, including violence, intimidation, forced donation requests, smuggling, and interference in police affairs, tender processes, and private disputes. Some interviewees perceived youth wings to be primarily oriented towards obtaining financial gain. In Banke, a civil society representative said that youth wings are only active when there is the potential to generate income. Although [other youth forces] are also implicated, the YCL is most often cited as being behind money-making initiatives either for the mother party or for individual benefit.
Among individuals aware of youth wings, there also exists considerable public distrust and even fear, particularly of the YCL. In some districts, this appears to be due in part to negative incidents, whether they occurred locally or were reported in the media, as well as in part to the legacy of the conflict.
There is also a widespread perception that the YCL has had a negative influence on the activities of other political party youth wings. A large number of interviewees describe individual youth wing members as “aggressive” or “violent”; some believed youth wing members were “criminals” or were recruited from criminal groups. Several interviewees expressed the opinion that youth wings were “leading young people in the wrong direction” or were “giving young people the idea that they didn‟t need to work for a living.” For example, in one Tarai district it was widely held that many youths had previously been involved in criminal groups and had joined youth wings as the financial rewards were more secure.
The organizational strength of the YCL:
The YCL appears generally to have the most clear and well-respected organizational structure. The YCL organizational structure mirrors that of the UCPN(M). Directives flow from the YCL central level down through several committee layers: zonal (per the Maoist-proposed autonomous states), district, constituency, area, VDC and ward. YCL activities are also directed by UCPN(M) leadership and coordinated with the youth wing at a peer level, i.e., district-level UCPN(M) leadership coordinates with district-level YCL leadership. Coordination between the party and the youth wing is generally strong: YCL districts-in-charge are also members of the party district committees, and the YCL and the Maoist party at the local level frequently share offices.
In terms of membership, the numbers – at least according to YCL leadership – are outlandishly inflated. It claims that one out of every thirty Nepalis is a member of the YCL:
YCL President Ganeshman Pun estimated that the total membership of the YCL was “approximately 1,000,000 cadres.”
Unverified estimates offered by UCPN(M) and YCL district-level representatives regarding general membership ranged up to 10,000 or more in relatively populous districts in which the Maoists are quite active, such as Kailali and Kaski. Some general members in each district are active members who can be mobilized quickly by the party, and are often referred to as “whole-timers” or “full-timers.” Estimates of active members provided by UCPN(M) and YCL district-level representatives ranged from around 100 to 1,500; in more sparsely populated districts and in districts not considered to be party strongholds, the number of active members was fewer than 100.
Where did the YCL cadres come from?
Most YCL youth wing members interviewed were affiliated with the Maoist party prior to their joining the YCL. In multiple districts, Carter Center observers met YCL members who were former PLA combatants. Many YCL cadres also entered the youth wing after joining the Maoist student union. However, some YCL cadres, notably in senior level positions, are former PLA combatants who were active during the decade-long conflict. They were then either “assigned” by the party to the YCL instead of going to the cantonments, or they entered the cantonments and then left voluntarily or were discharged.
What are the facts concerning the YCL’s paramilitary status?
YCL “paramilitary functioning” is difficult to assess, in large part due to the lack of agreement on a common definition of the term “paramilitary.” UML and NC representatives generally contend that YCL “communal living” (i.e., cadres living together in the same physical location) constitutes paramilitary functioning. By contrast, UCPN(M) representatives generally contend that YCL communal living does not constitute paramilitary functioning, but is merely “economical, ideological, and voluntary.”
The majority of YCL sites visited by the Carter Center did not appear to be organized in a military-style hierarchy. However, observers did find one site in Kaski, which was intended to serve as a “rapid response force” and where military terminology was used by a small number of interviewees to describe the organization’s structure. Carter Center observers spoke with several individuals who described an organizational structure of platoons, brigades, and companies, although it was not clear if this was a current or previous structure. Other interviewees also spoke about the camp’s purpose to provide a “rapid response force” in case of any clashes or disputes in the Pokhara area.
The Carter Center found several instances of YCL living communally in government buildings and many instances of YCL living communally in private buildings. In none of these cases could it be determined that the YCL was organized in a military-style hierarchy or that such arrangements were party-mandated. More often than not, these arrangements seemed to be sanctioned, but not imposed, by the party, or were circumstantial given that observers met many YCL who had relocated from other districts and did not have a home in the area.
In some parts of the country, observers heard scattered reports of YCL conducting physical fitness or self-defense training; however, they did not find evidence nor hear credible reports of YCL using firearms. Following the Maoists‟ May 2010 protest programs, observers have heard only a few subsequent reports in some parts of the country of sporadic trainings conducted. Physical fitness and self-defense trainings sometimes reportedly involve lathis and khukuris [long sticks and trational Nepali knives] but not firearms.
Users groups are bodies responsible for the management of local resources such as water and timber as well as local development projects; school management committees are responsible for administering school property, approving curriculum, and hiring and managing certain categories of teachers.
Regardless of the terminology used, many government officials, non-Maoist party representatives, civil society representatives and citizens have expressed concern about the existence of YCL communal living sites. However, some citizens interviewed have also expressed positive sentiments. Those expressing concerns generally reference widely publicized incidents of violence and intimidation, often involving groups of cadres; the legacy of the conflict, especially in highly affected areas or where the presence of the state remains weak; and the fact some YCL district leaders and members are former PLA combatants.
Why did cadres join the YCL in the first place?
Many YCL cadres entered the youth wing after joining the Maoist student union. However, some YCL cadres, notably in senior level positions, are former PLA combatants who were active during the decade-long conflict. Many YCL members spoke about their commitment to fighting injustice as a reason for their membership. A Dolakha YCL representative said he used to be a PLA combatant and wanted to continue fighting for the Maoist cause. He said that youths had been on the front line of the conflict and were integral to the insurgency. A YCL representative in the Tarai said, “I am from Rolpa district, the origin of the Maoists‟ insurgency. There were ignorant people living in my locality. The state used to charge them [with supporting the Maoists] and the people were suffering...so I joined the Maoist party to revolt against this injustice...[When] our party decided to form the YCL I was told to join it...others were also brought from the PLA.” Two young Baitadi YCL cadres said they joined the Maoists in 2001 and claimed that many of their friends now served the party in different capacities: “during the conflict period, we were all the same, doing the same job. Now we are in different groups: some of our friends are involved in student politics while we are involved in the YCL.”
What do YCL cadres receive from the Maoist party?
YCL cadres said that “full-timers” do not receive salary but are provided with food and accommodation; some also said that the party provides them with some money to cover basic needs, transportation, and communications costs. “Part-timers” do not receive the same benefits as “full-timers” except during party events. A Nawalparasi YCL representative told observers, “I am a full-time cadre. I own no private property and the party looks after me. I go to the people in the village and they give me food and shelter. The party also gives me some money for transportation and communication.” A Kailali YCL representative said the party does not provide salary, but only “limited pocket money” to cover basic needs. He further said that, as many YCL cadres are from a “war background and can‟t go home,” they have been working as full-timers and are provided with some food, accommodation, transportation, and simple clothing. Cadres interviewed also consistently mentioned receiving political training from the party and a few said they had received physical training.
Since June 2010, overall public activities of political party youth wings have been limited. Despite this low level of activity, Carter Center observers found that comparatively the YCL has been the most active youth wing.
Cadres in Nawalparasi, Dadeldhura, Sarlahi, Bhaktapur, and other districts noted that no YCL activities had been organized recently; however, one said: “during a popular movement, we‟ll be there on the front line.”
The YCL claims that public security is one of its key activies, citing prevention of smuggling as an example. However, the Carter Center found conflicting reports:
During the Dashain and Tihar holidays, YCL cadres in a number of districts, seemingly following a central level directive, reported being mobilized to curb criminal activities or “social evils” such as gambling and alcohol consumption. YCL representatives also spoke about efforts to prevent smuggling in multiple districts along the Nepal-India border. For example, according to an official in Kanchanpur, the YCL was instrumental in helping to reclaim timber that was going to be smuggled out of the district and in controlling criminal groups hiding in the forests. However, reports of YCL efforts to prevent smuggling were often conflicting or implicated cadres in benefitting improperly from such efforts. A UCPN-M representative in the same district told observers of how YCL cadres had received a reward for turning in a load of smuggled mobile phones. However, another interviewee reported that the YCL allegedly kept as much as two-thirds of the batch of mobile phones that were being smuggled, and only turned the remaining one-third over to authorities to collect a proportion of their value as a reward. In Kailali as well as Rautahat, interviewees also reported credible allegations of YCL complicity in smuggling, such as charging smugglers a fee for passage across the border.
Other activities and sources of tension between youth wings:
YCL cadres, and to a lesser extent UML YF and FLSC LVs, appear engaged in low-profile efforts aimed at obtaining financial gain and consolidating party strength at the local level, but direct levels of violence appear to have decreased. Such activities, covered in depth below, appear to be tolerated or tacitly supported – if not directed – by district leadership. YCL complicity in smuggling activities, intimidation of other parties and their supporters, interference in tender processes, forced donations and unlawful taxation were regularly mentioned by non-Maoist interviewees across districts visited. Additionally, in some cases Maoist representatives themselves complained that YCL cadres recruited after 2006 are financially motivated rather than politically dedicated to the cause. Meanwhile, Youth Force complicity in smuggling activities, interference in tender processes, forced donations or taxation was also referenced. Observers also heard reports that FLSC LVs from each of the three factions were involved in activities such as interference in tender processes, abductions, and illegal logging.
Additionally, since the outset of its observation efforts, the Center has reported on many youth wing clashes at the local level, primarily involving the YCL, and often between YCL and UML Youth Force cadres. While clashes were frequent in the early phase of the Center‟s observation, the number of youth wing clashes appears to have decreased in the last half of 2010. When clashes have occurred, their causes are largely attributable to competition for political space or financial gain. The most direct sources of tension are: efforts to influence contract tender processes; efforts to assert influence over selection processes for users group or management committees; escalation of small disputes or conflicts between student unions; efforts to engage in dispute resolution; and efforts to control – and, in response, preserve – political space.
The YCL, and to a lesser extent the CPN-UML YF, have been interfering in development contract tender processes in many districts. Such interference generally involves directing local government officials to issue contracts to party-supported contractors or approaching contractors to seek percentages of the award, protection fees, or employment for cadres. Such activities can lead to tensions or clashes between the YCL and YF. As reported previously by the Carter Center a common activity of YCL and to a lesser extent UML YF cadres is interference in tender processes. YCL interference is cited by local stakeholders more than that of any other group, and in one case in Kailali observers directly witnessed attempts by YCL cadres to prevent contractors from bidding. In Baitadi it was reported that YCL cadres request donations of between one and four percent of the total contract value from contractors in exchange for supporting their bids. After tenders are issued, YCL cadres often approach contractors to seek a percentage of the award, protection fees, or employment; some contractors reportedly pay for fear of repercussion. For example, an interviewee in Dadeldhura cited a case in May 2010 where the YCL requested commissions or jobs for its cadres in return for cooperation with contractors.
A significant number of interviewees have told observers about acts of YCL intimidation, notably efforts to control political space and influence local level elections and position appointments. In some cases, YF or other party cadres have attempted to push back against the YCL, and this has led to heightened tensions and clashes. In Gorkha in March 2010, a vehicle carrying a central level Tarun Dal leader visiting the district to participate in a party program was attacked by a group of YCL cadres throwing stones and carrying lathis. In Kaski, a clash ensued between Maoist and YCL cadres and RJM ANYA cadres during an RJM anti- federalism rally in March 2010; trade union members and YCL cadres reportedly attacked and injured eight RJM cadres as they passed through a main intersection.
Does the YCL ever insert itself into private disputes?
In Salyan, a police official reported that when a contractor failed to pay laborers an agreed upon wage, the unpaid workers complained to the Maoists and YCL cadres allegedly bound the contractor and dragged him through the market before beating him. Although citizens reportedly identified the individual responsible for the beating, he has not been arrested due to party protection. In Kapilvastu, civil society representatives reported that the Maoists were requested by a local Muslim community group to seize a piece land on which to build a school.
Currently, there is trend toward youth groups to incorporate “muscle power”:
Observers have noted two seemingly contradictory trends: first, that in the short-term youth wing violence and clashes appear to have decreased, but second that the creation of “youth forces” by various parties and the LVs in the Eastern Hills appears to indicate a longer-term trend towards greater aggression by youth wings in Nepal. As mentioned previously, youth in Nepal have also been used in the past to serve a similar function. However, in the last few years the role of the YCL in particular in providing “muscle power” and financial gain to the UCPN(M) has led to pressure on other parties to form similar organizations.
The argument over the definition of “paramilitary” and the problem therein:
Carter Center observer findings indicate that there is no clearly agreed definition of the term “paramilitary,” making Maoist compliance difficult to evaluate. Due to the lack of an agreed-upon definition of the term “paramilitary,” there are significant discrepancies in what Maoist and non-Maoist parties believe constitutes paramilitary functioning, and statements by both sides have established subjective standards based on their separate interpretations. Non-Maoist parties tend to claim that any kind of communal living constitutes paramilitary functioning, noting the capacity of YCL cadres living communally to mobilize quickly in a manner similar to that of military forces. Maoist representatives argue that communal living is in line with the party‟s ideology and is a voluntary, economical arrangement. UCPN(M) leaders tend to define paramilitary functioning as limited to cadres living in barracks and conducting military style training with weapons. However, drawing a distinction between YCL situated in “barracks” versus those who are living in a communal manner remains a source of confusion and contention between political parties.
Moreover, there seemingly exists some level of confusion between Maoist and YCL representatives regarding whether any YCL cadres are currently situated in “paramilitary structures.” In an interview with The Carter Center in December 2010, YCL President Ganeshman Pun said that the YCL did not have any “paramilitary structures” and that any reports of YCL living in “huge numbers” were probably the result of “boasting” by excited cadres. However, on December 20 a Maoist Standing Committee meeting seemingly acknowledged the existence of YCL paramilitary structures when it announced a decision to dismantle all remaining YCL barracks throughout the country, although at the same time senior Maoist leaders claimed there were no barracks to dismantle. On December 28, senior YCL representative Kul Prasad KC said that the Maoists‟ Standing Committee decision was the “result of misunderstanding among the party leaders...there are no YCL camps to disband” and said that YCL cadres have the right to live communally.
Following the Standing Committee decision, it appeared to observers that most YCL representatives interviewed were aware of the decision, but had not received required further instructions. A YCL representative in Biratnagar said that the district committee was aware of the decision but that without receiving an official letter from the party, the decision will not be implemented in the district. Moreover, he said that discharged PLA and students are living along with the YCL in many cases and, without providing an alternative to them, the party will find it difficult to force them to leave. Additionally, in some cases, YCL representatives did not believe the party‟s decision applied to them. In Chhetrapati, a YCL representative said, “this is not a camp; we are just practicing communal living as in a socialist system, which is our ultimate goal.” He added, “we sacrificed everything during the conflict. We have nothing left. We don‟t have jobs so we have to live communally for our economy.” A Kaski YCL representative said that the decision was a misunderstanding on the part of the party leadership and believed that it was only taken to please other parties. And, in Gorkha, party representatives simply told observers, “there are no barracks to de-barrack.”
Carter Center Findings on Maoist Compliance to terminate paramilitary operations:
The majority of YCL sites visited by the Carter Center did not appear to be organized in a military-style hierarchy. However, observers did find one site in Kaski which was intended to serve as a “rapid response force” and where military terminology was used by a small number of interviewees to describe the organization’s structure. In Kaski, observers found one large site that is locally referred to as a “YCL camp” located on land belonging to two government entities, National Construction Company Nepal and Timber Corporation Nepal. Observers who visited the site in January 2011 estimated that somewhere between 50 and 150 UCPN (M) cadres reside there permanently, including YCL cadres and members of the All Nepal Federation of Trade Unions.
Although the signboard outside the camp reads that the site is a Maoist trade union office and camp for union affiliated laborers, YCL full timers also reside and work there, some of whom hold positions of authority in the camp. Maoist cadres living on site spoke candidly of the camp‟s purpose to provide a “rapid response force” in case of any clashes or disputes in the Pokhara area. According to a Maoist representative living on site, camp members are deployed to “rescue” party cadres when they encounter difficulties.
Several individuals interviewed in October 2010 with access to the camp told observers that the camp was organized in a hierarchical military-style structure. Although observers were unable to verify the claim, interviewees spoke in detail about the organization of the camp, including its division into “sections,” “platoons” and “companies.” After some discussion, they confirmed that the smallest unit is a section, and three of these make up a platoon. In one platoon there are about 40 cadres. They described a leadership committee which monitors the camp and enforces the rules, including meting out punishment to those who leave the camp without permission.
It remains unclear whether the camp presently maintains this structure or whether the interviewees referenced a previous structure. However, multiple individuals living on site reported that lower-ranking cadres must seek permission from a higher authority to leave the camp on personal business. According to one YCL representative, if permission is refused, a cadre can appeal to an individual of higher authority to obtain permission to leave the camp. Moreover, visitor access to the site is restricted and all outsiders, including cadres who want to join, must seek approval to enter. Observers noted that there appeared to be a large hall and extra rooms that could easily accommodate visitors or additional cadres on the site.
Higher-ranking Maoist and YCL representatives denied that the site was a paramilitary camp or had a military structure. A YCL coordinator living at the site said that there were full-time members residing on the premises but that accusations that the site was a “camp” were false and were made by those who “accuse us of being a paramilitary group and misuse the name of the YCL.” The YCL Kaski district chairperson also strongly denied that the YCL site in Pokhara had a military structure: “I am called chairperson, not the commander. If we had military structure, I would be called commander.” He instead referred to the site as a “shelter” where some Maoist cadres stay as a means to reduce costs and live in line with the party‟s ideology: "We live in different places, but in groups just to reduce the cost of living...The communists‟ principle is to live in a commune. Communal living should not be related to a military structure. We do not have weapons or explosives. People live in a group in hostels of colleges. Is that also a barrack?” He dismissed suggestions that large numbers of cadres live at the site as a misunderstanding, clarifying that the shelter is used to organize major programs because it can hold – but not house – up to 2,000 cadres.
The Carter Center found several instances of YCL living communally in government buildings and many instances of YCL living communally in private buildings. Observers reported that YCL were living communally in government buildings in at least two districts since 2006, although they did not appear to be organized in a military-style hierarchy. For example, in Nawalparasi, YCL cadres, Maoist full-timers and sister wing members are living in a building owned by the Department of Roads. Between 15 and 20 cadres are said to reside permanently in the building, with the number temporarily increasing to as many as several hundred cadres when party programs are locally held. The site is used as a party “contact center” from which to conduct trainings and disseminate information. As of September 2010, there had reportedly been no efforts by the administration to remove the Maoists from the site.
There were also many cases where observers found YCL cadres living in private buildings in a communal manner but in none of these cases could it be determined that such arrangements were party-mandated or that YCL were organized in military-style formations such as brigades, platoons, or companies. Most often, the Center found these arrangements to be sanctioned, but not imposed, by the Maoists, or circumstantial given that many YCL had relocated from other districts and therefore had no home in the area. Examples include:
1. In Kanchanpur, observers estimate 40 to 5044 YCL cadres are living at a warehouse with YCL graffiti on the walls.
2. In Palpa, around 15 YCL cadres live together at a site that used to house 200 to 300 YCL.
3. In Parbat, at least 10 YCL cadres have been living for more than a year in an old cinema hall.
4. In Kailali, YCL cadres and formally discharged PLA are living communally in multiple locations.
5. In Doti, YCL cadres are living communally in multiple locations, where they reportedly work in cooperative farms in exchange for room and board; in some places, three or four cadres live togetherwhile in others the number is around 10 to 12.
6. In districts such as Kailali, Khotang, Kanchanpur, Rolpa and Salyan, observers found or heard about YCL cadres living at Maoist party or YCL offices.
The Carter Center also found several examples of YCL living “communally” in and around Kathmandu. In response to local media, police, and political party focus on YCL activities in Kathmandu, in October 2010 and January 2011 Carter Center observers visited 22 sites where YCL were believed to be living in a communal manner. Of the 22 sites visited, observers found that in 8 locations (Gongabu, Sano Bharyang, Jorpati, Kapan, Bafal, Kshetrapati, Kirtipur, and Jhaukhel) YCL and other Maoist representatives were residing communally; in some locations, communal living sites also doubled as Maoist or YCL party offices. It was not always possible for observers to distinguish between YCL and Maoist cadres; in some cases, it appeared that Maoist cadres as well as sister wing cadres were living in the same residences. It also appeared that all sites were located on private property, specifically homes or abandoned industrial sites, although details could not be confirmed.
This report has focused on three aspects of political party youth wings: their membership, their activities, and their compliance with the peace process agreements signed by their mother parties. Overall, Carter Center observers have found that while direct violence and clashes between political party youth wings appears to have decreased, activities focused on financial gain continue – primarily involving the YCL and to a lesser extent the UML‟s Youth Force. The YCL remains the largest, most organized, and most active youth wing in most areas of the country, and in some districts YCL activities are one of the most serious threats to security. Citizen fear of the YCL is compounded by infrequent but widely-publicized incidents of violence, the legacy of the conflict, the common understanding that some YCL district leaders and members are former PLA combatants, and the existence of YCL communal houses.
Despite positive aspirations of youth wing members, admirable sentiments expressed in individual interviews, and a small number of constructive activities at the local level, the greatest impact of political party youth wings today appears to result from their negative activities, which can undermine political space, development, and public security. These activities include interference in contract tender processes, complicity in smuggling, solicitation of forced donations, unlawful taxation, efforts to influence appointments of users groups and management committees, and efforts towards “dispute resolution.”
Also of concern is the trend towards greater aggressiveness of youth wings, notably through the establishment of “youth forces” in the mold of the YCL. At the same time that the UML is attempting to rein in its Youth Force following numerous allegations of aggressive or illegal behavior, NC cadres are advocating for a more aggressive Tarun Dal, three Madhesi parties have formed “youth forces,” and the FLSC LV has adopted military-style rhetoric in its command structure. Though many of these “youth forces” are nascent and are “forces” in name only, the trend of youth wings as muscle is of concern for Nepal‟s future. While there has been extensive focus at the national level on issues related to Maoist combatants, a broader review of political party youth wings and plans for their constructive engagement in Nepali politics and society is of equal importance.
Political Party and Identity Group Youth Wings by Organization mentioned in the Carter Report
1. UCPN(M) Young Communist League (YCL)
2. CPN-UML Youth Federation Nepal & Youth Force
3. Nepali Congress Tarun Dal
4. MJF-Nepal Youth Forum and Youth Force
5. MJF-Democratic Youth Forum
6. TMDP Youth Front and Youth Force
7. Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) Youth People’s Security Force
8. Rastriya Prajatantra Party National Democratic Youth Organization
9. Rastriya Janamorcha All Nepal Youth Association
10. Federal Limbuwan State Council Limbuwan Volunteers
11. Tharuhat Autonomous State Council Federal Volunteers (also called “Tharu Volunteers”)
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